In the Garden:
New England
February, 2013
Regional Report

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African violets provide colorful blooms year round when they have the proper conditions.

African Violets for Year Round Bloom

African violets need an image makeover. When you say their name, what comes to mind for many is a picture of a grandmotherly figure fussing over her temperamental plants. But these houseplants are actually one of the easiest to keep in bloom on your windowsill year round and are attractive enough to fit in with all kinds of decor -- not just chintz and lace doilies! Follow these tips to keep your home full of flowers all year long.

Light
African violets need plenty of bright indirect light without a lot of direct sun in order to bloom prolifically. An eastern exposure or a curtain-filtered southern window works well. During the dim days from November to March, you may find that you need to move plants to a brighter spot to keep them in flower. African violets are also great candidates for growing under full-spectrum lights kept on 13 hours a day. But be sure to turn the lights off at night. If they don't get at least eight hours of darkness, plants may fail to set flowers.

Temperature
Average room temperatures (65-75 F) will keep African violets happy.

Water
Use lukewarm water, keep the soil barely moist, and don't allow water to stand in the saucers. Bottom watering keeps leaves dry, which prevents spotting. Many gardeners swear by two-part, self-watering African violet pots. You simply fill the reservoir of the outer pot with water, which slowly leaches through the walls of the unglazed inner pot to keep the soil consistently moist.

Humidity
African violets appreciate high humidity. While they're not really violets at all, they are indeed of African heritage. In the 80 percent humidity of their native tropical rain forests, they grow in rock crevices where moisture in the soil around their roots drains away quickly, but moisture in the air envelops their leaves. Plant in a potting mix that drains well and be careful not overwater, but keep humidity high by setting pots on a tray of pebbles filled to half their depth with water. If the light conditions are right, a steamy bathroom makes a great spot for these plants.

Fertilizer
Keep plants well fed by giving them a half-strength dose of high-phosphorus liquid fertilizer every two weeks throughout the year. If you can't give them the bright light they need for active growth in winter, reduce fertilization to every 4-6 weeks.

Grooming
Pinch off the flower clusters as they fade and clean leaves with a soft artist's paint brush if they get dusty.


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